GOLD Coast Airport is about get what tourism operators and passengers have been demanding for years - all-weather boarding facilities through aerobridges.
The move, part of a planned $200 million upgrade that will almost double the size of the city's international gateway, is also aimed at preventing a passenger crush in coming years that airport bosses say could seriously impact future operations.
Under a proposed redevelopment of the southern end of the existing Coolangatta terminal, Gold Coast Airport will begin work early next year to improve capacity in Australia's sixth-largest airport with the first stage to be completed ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
The plan comes on the heels of $200 million already spent on the airport over the past decade, and a surge in passenger numbers to 5.8 million since then has created capacity concerns for the operator.
Gold Coast Airport says stage one will include three new wide-bodied aircraft stands, a three-level terminal development and provision for up to two aerobridges. Ultimately the new terminal will host four aerobridges if demand requires.
The aerobridges are seen as a significant new direction for the airport, which has prided itself on the low-cost structure and the tarmac boarding facilities required by low-cost airlines.
Gold Coast Airport chief operating officer David Collins concedes the aerobridges will come at a cost to airlines which will contribute to funding the airport upgrade, although they will essentially be used by full-service operators such as Qantas and Virgin.
Collins says low-cost airlines such as Tiger and Jetstar, whose business model is built on quick turnaround times after landing, will continue with passenger offloads on to the tarmac.
"We've unashamedly targeted the low-cost market and we've been very successful in doing that, so we won't be retrofitting aerobridges because of that," he says.
Collins says Gold Coast Airport currently is pressed at peak times to accommodate flights, buoyed by growth from Asian carriers and flights from New Zealand.
"There are times now when all of our bays are being utilised. While we manage to accommodate the aircraft, we're anticipating the Gold Coast will grow so we need to be able to facilitate them."
Collins says he doesn't anticipate much impact on passengers during construction of the first stage at the southern end of the existing terminal.
"Then we'll look after the Commonwealth Games to do serious internal work. There will be impact on passengers at that time but we will be putting in place programs to minimise this."
The first stage of the redevelopment is expected to be completed in late 2017, while subsequent stages are expected to open in late 2018 and 2020.
"This redevelopment will ensure more efficient use of terminal space and offer increased capacity, meaning service for travellers is faster and more efficient, with broader retail choice," says Collins.
"If no action is taken to provide additional aircraft parking by 2018, access to the airport would need to be restricted. This could significantly impact the airport's ability to service future domestic and international passenger demand."
The airport, which is owned by Gold Coast-based aviation infrastructure group Queensland Airports Limited (QAL), says capacity issues during peak hours are affecting check-in, baggage handling and domestic and international departure lounges.
"This significant investment demonstrates our confidence in the Gold Coast and its ongoing role as a major contributor to the Queensland and NSW economies," says QAL managing director Dennis Chant.
"Project LIFT will allow us to meet forecast demand for the next eight years while also creating additional employment, generating further economic activities, and providing capacity for future growth," he says.
"Importantly, the region will benefit through the creation of more than 230 full-time jobs during stage one of construction, while an additional 180 direct full-time workers will be required for ongoing operations."
QAL has launched a consultation process for the proposed expansion which still requires federal government approval.
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